The Digital Switchover for Radio

About 6 months ago, Ben Bradshaw (MP for Exeter, and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) announced that the government intends to upgrade all national radio stations from analogue to digital by 2015.

As part of this scheme, a new ‘ultra-local’ tier of radio stations (community radio and RSLs) will occupy the FM spectrum space cleared by services migrating to DAB.

However, last week there was a debate in the House of Commons, centred around one MP who suggested that DAB+ be introduced, and that all future radio sets be able to recieve FM in order to make sure that the ultra-local services are not left behind.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland said that there was “widespread concern” from small, independant stations that the advancement of the digital era will leave many stations facing an uneven playing field.

And that is very true, because radio’s version of the digital switchover is something that will effect all radio stations accross the country, including the ones which don’t move over. I am sure that just about every radio station would like to be broadcasting on digital, but its not a case of what they want to do – more a case of what they can do, or can afford.

If you remember, on yesterday’s update I mentioned the costs to Corinium Radio for applying for an FM RSL… I was talking hundreds of pounds. If you think its a lot, then look at the cost for broadcasting on digital – at least ten times that! (Counting licences and the cost of the equipment). This is a cost which many radio stations can not afford, and forces many to stay on FM. Plus, in order for DAB/DAB+ to work properly, you need to be within recieving distance of at least 3 transmitters – not like FM, where only one is needed!

But even if FM can be recieved, will people want to? My Grandmother has a DAB/FM radio… but you need to switch between the 2 – press a button to get from FM to DAB (and vice versa) before retuning to the desired radio station. But people won’t necessarily think of switching over to FM for more radio stations once the switchover has happened – especially if their favourite radio station is a massive, national one like Radio 2, which will then be no longer available on FM.

One MP thinks he has the answer:

We are committed to ensuring the implementation of a combined station guide, which is similar to an electronic programme guide, that will allow listeners to access all sets will simply have a list of station names. The listener will not distinguish between FM and digital stations, but will simply select the station by name.

Quoted from Si^on Simon MP
(Sorry – coundn’t get the little arrow thingy to go on top of the o)

If such a system were to be introduced, it would mean that there’s no switching between FM and DAB; you simply scroll through and select the name of the radio station. This would mean a) no need to remember frequencies, and b) all radio stations can be accessed in exactly the same way, even though the technology running them is completely different.

Definatley something which should be introduced! Because, I expect that although the national radio stations will get through the switchover, unless a system which sort of merges the two together – a system which would mean listeners can’t distinguish between an FM station and a digital radio station – is implemented widely, smaller radio stations will loose listeners.

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer


  1. If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Roberts DAB Radio and see how good sounds. Then you’ll know for sure its worth the switch. There simply is return from them once you’ve heard them.

  2. @Gerald Aase
    This isn’t about sound quality – its about small, community radio stations who will loose out because they are still on FM. I already know that DAB has good sound quality (DAB+ would be even better).

    Oh and, why does it have to be a Roberts DAB? My Grundig Opus which I’ve had since 2002 works perfectly!

  3. This is all about the big boys wanting to save on dual transmission costs.

    As for smaller stations being worried of being left behind – I’m sure there be people, myself included, who will NOT buy into DAB, and will look for something to listen to on their old faithful analogue recievers. I do not just sit down and listen to the radio, I like it as a background. So I won’t be too worried whether it’s churning out BBCRadio 2 or Radio Norwich99.9FM

    …No switch-over will proceed until at half of all listening is via digital…So the other half will still be listening via analogue, right? Hardly what I would call insignificant.

    It is also with a degree of amusement that I read about the Swedish idea of trialling DRM/DRM+ as a digital “alternative” for small stations. LOL. Because listeners, not being content with being forced to invest in DAB+, will rush out in their droves and invest north of $300USD on a DRM reciever. And of course, stations that are worried about being left behind on the ever-popular FM band can’t wait to start broadcasting on an obscure and largely unproven spectrum, which would require expensive adjustments for them and their listeners…


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